- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 21 (UPI) — Even as the Bush administration tries to fathom the thinking of Saddam Hussein and the complex diplomacy of the United Nations, it is now also trying to work out what its allies really intend to do.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair talks like America's staunchest ally in the Iraqi crisis, the one loyal friend whose troops and warplanes can be relied on. Thirty-one thousand — one-quarter of the British Army — are in the Gulf or on their way. But he faces a threatened revolt among his own Labor members of Parliament, and opinion polls that say four out of five British voters do not want to go to war without a new U.N. resolution.

So far Blair is holding firm with the Bush administration, but nobody in Washington nor London can predict what he would do in the new situation that now looms — of a U.N. Security Council majority against war. Blair's aides have already been murmuring off-the-record of giving the inspectors more time to do their job. So will Blair risk his job by going to war alone with President Bush — and risk his relations with his partners in the European Union — or will he play for time by demanding more U.N. inspections?

Meanwhile in Paris, President Jacques Chirac said this week that "France and Germany's approach and vision concerning Iraq are identical and of the same nature" — and the German government has said it won't fight even with a U.N. mandate. And now at the United Nations, France's Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin is threatening to use France's veto against a war.

But the newspaper Le Figaro reported this week that France's armored regiments are painting their tanks and armored personnel carriers in desert camouflage, and the Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier in Toulon harbor is on alert to sail for the Gulf. Can France really afford not to be in at the kill — or at least at the division of the spoils — if Saddam Hussein's regime is overthrown and the oil concessions of country with the world's second biggest oil reserves are up for grabs?

The intention of the Turks, a crucial ally is Iraq is to be faced with the threat of a second front in the north, is also hard to read. The new moderate Islamist government of the AK (Justice and Development) party is insisting that no decision on access for U.S. troops can be made without a vote in Parliament, which cannot be scheduled until the last week of January. But 150 U.S. survey troops, checking Turkish bases as jumping-off points for an attack by up to 80,000 American troops, were admitted last Sunday and have been at work for a week.

The gap between the civilian government and the military looks to be wide.

"We hope the United States will wait for at least a second resolution," deputy Prime Minister Ertugrul Yalcinbayir declared last week.

But Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, deputy chief of the General Staff, countered in a news statement that the United States had first asked for Turkish assistance six months ago, and it was growing understandably impatient.

"A northern front would be decisive both politically and militarily," he said. "With such a front, it would be far quicker and less risky for the U.S. to achieve its goal."

British Defense Minister Geoffrey Hoon warned the Turks last week that Ankara's current ambivalence could mislead Saddam into a miscalculation that could itself provoke war, and General Buyukanit noted that at the least "there is a need for deterrent cooperation with the U.S."

There is a confusion between rhetoric and reality among all of Washington's allies. Even senior U.S. State Department officials acknowledge privately that they have no idea whether the United States would fight alone, with the British, or find itself at the last minute thronged with allies eager to share the glory of victory, or at least the pickings of the oil fields.

Washington has been confident of at least strong diplomatic and political support from Italy and Spain, two NATO allies led by right-of-center governments who support Bush. But the latest poll in Italy by the Cirn Institute shows 61 percent of Italians against the war and 30 percent in favor — a sharp decline in support that reflects the strong anti-war stand taken by the pope. Once the preserve of the Left in Italy, the anti-war vote has been swollen by devout Catholics and many priests are taking an active role in the anti-war movement. In Spain also, the pope's latest appeal for peace has strengthened the anti-war polls.

The common factor among the NATO allies in Europe is that there are strong majorities against war without a new U.N. mandate, but small majorities would reluctantly accept war if the U.N. Security Council voted again after the Jan. 27 report by the inspectors that Iraq was violating its pledge to disarm.

Ironically, the decision at the United Nations would have to be taken by many of the governments that are carefully watching their own public opinion. Four European countries, all NATO members, are currently among the Security Council's 15 members. Britain and France are permanent members, with a veto, and Spain and Germany hold one rotating chair each. Their vote — along with the strength of the evidence from the U.N. inspectors — could sway the opinion among their own citizens.

There is a further irony. Just as it took the threat of unilateral U.S. military action in November to win a unanimous vote on Resolution 1441, the United Nations will again be mindful of Washington's threats to launch an attack alone — if it must. None of America's allies wishes to offend the Bush administration — and undermine NATO — if Washington is resolved. Equally, they would prefer to be on the winning side, particularly when a post-Saddam Hussein government is considering how to share out the spoils of oil concessions.

France and Russia have already negotiated development contracts, to be activated as and when U.N. sanctions against Iraq are lifted. Britain and Italy, and U.S. oil corporations, would be eager to get their share of the development potential of the country with the world's second-largest reserves of oil. The sharpest divisions between the United States and its traditional allies might not come at the United Nations before a war, but in the oilfields after a victory.





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